7 Intriguing Death Rituals And Traditions From Across The Globe

Warning: Graphic Content

Funerals, at least the ones I’ve been to, have all been pretty much the same.

The mourners dress in black, pray at mass, shed tears during the eulogy and then follow the hearse to the graveyard where the (very expensive) casket is lowered into the ground.

But across the globe, memorials and death traditions are practiced in a variety of ways; some so festive and quirky, they almost seem bizarre!

1. The Malagasy people of Madagascar practice Famadihana, or “Turning of the Bones”

This celebration-cum-family reunion to express gratitude and show a connection to the departed is held once every five or seven years.

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The ritual involves exhuming the dead, peeling off the burial garments and wrapping them in fresh silk shrouds.

Their descendants then lift the corpses onto their shoulders and begin the festivities by dancing to the accompaniment of brass bands. Before the sun sets, the bodies are replaced upside down in the crypts that are then sealed until the next celebration.

2. Tibetan Buddhists practice Sky Burials

When a person dies, their corpse is taken to the mountaintop by the body carriers (also known as Rogyapas) who dissect it with blade and leave it for the vultures.

Tibetans believe that if the vultures eat the body, it means that the deceased was without sin and that his or her soul has gone peacefully to the Paradise.

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Once the flesh is eaten up by vultures, the body breaker smashes the bone into pieces and mixes it with tsampa to feed the vultures (while the Lamas chant sutras to redeem the sins of the dead), because the remains would tie the spirits to this life.

3. In Ghana, people are buried in Abebuu Adekai

People in Ghana believe that the death of a loved one is a time to mourn them as well as a time to celebrate their life.

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So instead of a traditional coffin, the deceased are buried in “proverbial coffins,” designed to tell the story of the person’s life, work, and favourite things.

4. Totem Poles are erected in the Pacific Northwest

The Mortuary Totem Pole is a special type of totem. The icons seen on these poles are meant to act as guardians to guide the spirit to the afterlife. 

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Decorated with beautiful carvings that tell a story, they have a little groove chiselled into the top where the remains of a chief, shaman, or notable warrior are interred.

Of course, to get the body to fit into the small cavity, the family has to first crush it to a pulp with clubs.

Fun.

5. South Koreans have Burial Beads

After a law requiring graves to be emptied after 60 years was passed in 2000, many South Koreans began opting to have their loved ones’ remains cremated and then subjected to a special process that melts the ashes and causes them to crystallize.

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The crystals are then refashioned into gem-like beads in turquoise, pink or black that can be distributed or stored in glass jars at home. Apparently, a single corpse generally produces about five cups of death beads.

6. In Tana Toraja, funerals are raucous affairs called Rambu Solo

The Torajan people in eastern Indonesia believe that a dead person is not yet dead if the Rambu Solo has yet to take place; he or she is simply a sick person who is asleep.

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Families save up for years to raise money for a lavish funeral, where a sacrificial water buffalo will carry the deceased’s soul to the afterlife. During that time, the corpse is symbolically bathed, offered food, and cared for.

When the funeral does take place, it is a feast that lasts for days involving the whole village.

7. The Caviteño people in the Philippines bury their dead in a tree trunk

Ethnic groups in the Philippines all have their unique funeral practices.

When a Cavite person is nearing death due to sickness or old age, they go out into the forest and select a tree. Their family then builds them a small hut to live out their final days while hollowing out the chosen tree trunk.

When the person dies, he or she is entombed vertically in the hollowed-out tree trunk.

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Fascinating as these funerary rites no doubt are, they can also tell us a lot about a culture; its beliefs and its values. I think it’s a great idea then, the next time I’m at a funeral, to dig a little deeper (pun intended) and learn all I can!

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Posted by

Amanda Francesca Mendonça

After spending pretty much all of my teen years waiting for a Hogwarts letter that never came, I gave up and settled for being a wizard with words instead. A hopeless romantic, when I’m not penning down short stories, I’m busy imagining my own happily ever after.

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